The worst shift of the Caps season: What went wrong?

This wasn’t the best weekend of hockey for the Caps. They dropped both games and didn’t look particularly great in either one. There was one shift in particular against New Jersey that was especially bad, quite possibly the worst shift of the Caps season.

At the 2:29 mark of the second period, the Devils brought the puck into the Caps zone. The puck wouldn’t leave the zone for another 1:11, in which time the Devils piled up 10 shots attempts.

J.P. noticed it. I noticed it. We all noticed it. It was possibly the worst shift of the season for the Caps and it somehow didn’t end up in the back of their net.  There were two bad decisions that during the 1:11 in the Caps zone that prolonged the terrible shift.

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Above is 3 seconds after the Devils entered the zone, already with one shot attempt. The puck comes around the boards to Troy Brouwer whose momentum is carrying him towards the goal line. Brouwer’s best decision here, given his momentum, not having the puck completely corralled, and the pressure coming from his right, would be to poke the puck behind the net where Matt Niskanen could gather the puck in. Given the direction of the momentum of the two Devils’ skaters down low in the zone, Niskanen would have more time than Brouwer to fully gain control of the puck. Worst case scenario, Niskanen could bang the puck around the boards.

Instead, Brouwer tries to take the puck behind the goal line himself and is stripped of the puck, as you can see below.

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The Caps did not regain possession for another 53 seconds, during which time the Devils generated 6 shot attempts. Despite the fact that he had a better option, the turnover by Brouwer wasn’t especially egregious, but it sure was costly in terms of shot attempts and time in the defensive zone.

53 seconds later Niskanen, who is exhausted, gets the puck behind the net.

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Plenty of time to get the puck out, right? Wrong. Niskanen struggles to get control of the puck and then seems bewildered, probably from exhaustion, when he does get the puck cleanly on his stick. As a result, the above turns into the picture below.

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So while a bouncing puck and exhaustion make it understandable that Niskanen muffled the clearing attempt (these kind of things happen over the course of 82 games), his approach was questionable from the time he got the puck. He seems intent on pushing the puck along to Andre Burakovsky, but given the impending and then eventual pressure of the Devils’ forechecker, the safer and smarter play would have been to throw the puck behind the net, where Karl Alzner would have had approximately all day to get the breakout started and the Caps headed towards a much needed line change.

Andre Burakovsky could have been more helpful to Niskanen but chose to remain on the half-wall, likely because he was in need of oxygen and water.

13 seconds and 3 additional shot attempts later, a rebound goes to the high slot, where Marcus Johansson gathers in the puck and exits the zone, thus bringing to an end the worst shift of the Caps season.

About Pat Holden

Pat writes regularly about hockey on Brooks Laichyear and Russian Machine Never Breaks. His work has also appeared on ESPN.com and The Washington Post. You can follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pfholden

Posted on November 17, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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